Holy Men

The graveyard spilled its markers over the ascending terrain in a glowing stream that made the moon emphatic. I had to look. The car, my father’s Ford, was dipping from a mild upgrade into a graceful bend where the absence of traffic encouraged my momentary distraction. The moon was low and moodily huge, as I caught it through the barren crush of tree limbs that topped the nearest rise in the receding landscape. The crest, grassy and rounded, disappeared under piles of black shadows. At the time, I had no idea how fitting this passing field of tombstones would prove to be. Not that death was far from my mind because I was, after all, a former Catholic on my way to visit a priest. Certain associations are relentless. Still, it was not with the faintest grasp of anything unusual that I let my eyes absorb the display of mortality in its neatly tended monopoly of the vista. Boulders burst through the soil all over this part of Iowa. Surrounding farms arranged the dirt in rows of corn and soy. And so manmade patterns in fields of half-buried stones were ordinary. Upon reflection these hillside markers hover like a schoolboy’s model of the Milky Way in the moon’s hard light, and I see how they could have been taken as the announcement of a major chord. However, I gave them little more than a second before I looked away, feeling distracted. I had driven this road hundreds of times, mostly as a teenager. My high school girlfriend had lived at the top of this same hill, which I was now climbing, my eyes back on the road to visit Father Edward Lillius, a former teacher and mentor from whom I had been estranged for more than a dozen years.

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